Teachers in the Lawrence school district will soon say goodbye to their old laptop computers, and hello to new wireless mobile devices.
The move is part of a complete transformation of the district's computer networking environment, a change that eventually will have most students using similar devices in so-called "blended classrooms" to read their course material, communicate with teachers and even take their exams.
Jerri Kemble, assistant superintendent for educational programs and technology, told the Lawrence school board Monday that the district has settled on three different kinds of mobile tablets that teachers can choose from: the Apple MacBook Air; the Dell XPS; and the Microsoft Surface Pro2.
MacBooks will be the default option for elementary teachers because it works well with other mobile devices such as iPads that are currently being used in blended classrooms, Kemble said. Secondary teachers can choose to take a MacBook, Dell XPS or a Microsoft Surface Pro2.
The board voted unanimously to authorize spending up to $600,000 for the MacBooks, at the rate of about $1,175 each. It also authorized spending up to $500,000 to purchase Dell devices through a state contract for about $1,168.
The district hasn't yet sought a bid from Microsoft for the Surface Pro2 devices, but officials estimate they will cost about $1,000 each.
Funding will come from the $1.5 million the board authorized in this year's Capital Improvements Plan for mobile devices and interactive technology. That money was originally part of the district's 2012-13 budget, but went unspent last year and was carried over into this year's budget.
Kemble said devices will also have to be made available so substitute teachers can check them out when they are given an assignment. For contracted teachers, though, the devices qualify as a taxable benefit, although the district will pay a stipend to teachers to cover the additional taxes, estimated at about $5 a month.
The district is also spending $6.5 million in bond proceeds to expand and upgrade its wireless network so that more instruction and classroom management can be done online.
Eventually the district expects all students to use some kind of wireless mobile device to log into the network and access online materials for courses. For them, though, the district has adopted a "bring your own device," or BYOD policy, although it will likely spend some money buying devices for students who cannot provide their own.